I’ve been accused over the years of being arrogant by my detractors. I’ve never been able to figure this out. Arrogance denotes some sort of mean spirited attitude. I don’t have that. I do have confidence.
A quarterback’s confidence.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as the quarterback. I actually played the position in high school, a little bit in college and in a ridiculous semi-pro league. When I used to run around in the front yard as a kid, throwing the ball into the bushes, I pretended to be the quarterback. I’ve always thought that way, and still do. I’m the quarterback of the sports team at Channel 4, given the responsibility of getting the job done while being part of the team.
I’ve always been fascinated by the mental part of the quarterback’s job. It’s one of the few jobs in sports that blends the cerebral with the physical. It’s part motivation, part inspiration. Without all facets clicking, a quarterback’s job can’t get done. No position in sports is as difficult, or as important.
When quarterbacks are in competition with each other for a starting job, it can divide a team. The Cowboys with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, the Redskins with Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer and now with Brad Johnson and Jeff George. No matter how hard a coach and the quarterbacks themselves try to smooth things over, they can’t. The team looks to them as the leader, and they choose sides.
Former NFL quarterback Matt Robinson, now a color analyst for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was involved in a competition with Richard Todd, both vying for the starting job with the New York Jets. “We were friendly,” recalls Robinson, “but it was definitely competitive. There was always an edge there, even when you were out socially.” How do you deal with that, I wondered. “Depending on the guy, sometimes you can talk about it. Richard and I decided we’d do our best with what is always a tough situation. No bad mouthing, no sabotage.”
“That’s right,” adds current Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell. Brunell was in a similar situation in Jacksonville with Steve Beuerlein. “You try to make the best of it, and it really depends on the other guy. There can be tension, but you know it’s going to be a competition going in. Steve and I got along so it wasn’t a problem. With some other guys, it could be.”
Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin admits how competing quarterbacks handle themselves in the meetings and in the locker room factors into the final decision. “It’s not one of the first things you look at, but certainly how a guy handles himself, his reaction to his teammates and his competitors factors into it.”
A quarterback can’t be a small person. He has to have a magnanimous side. He gets too much credit and knows it. He takes more blame than deserved, and he knows that too. A quarterback has to have a “selective memory.” “Oh yeah,” Brunell agreed. “You have to be able to forget every bad play that’s happened and move on. Sometimes that’s really tough.” He has to believe the next play is going for a touchdown, no matter what.
“Confidence is the word I’d use,” added Brunell. “You have to be confident in your own abilities, your teammates’ the coaches, the scheme, everything. You go into every situation confident of success, confident you can make it happen.” Robinson thinks that confidence is what can carry the other guys on offense. “When you step in that huddle, all eyes are on you. Your body language, how you call the play, even how you step into the huddle. The guys are looking at you for a cue. Some want some kind of direction, they’re looking for a leader.”
Other position players agree there’s a common thread that runs through all successful quarterbacks. “They all have different personalities,” says Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan McCardell. “But the good ones come into the huddle and can tell who’s ready to play and who’s not.” “They’re not interested in talk, about what happened beforehand, about the mouthing from the other side of the ball. When it’s time to go, they’re ready to go. You can see it. They shut everything else out and say ‘Let’s go.'”
I asked Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame linebacker about the difference between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants in the ’58 NFL Championship game. “They had John Unitas, we didn’t,” Huff said immediately referring to the Colts Hall of Fame quarterback. “What about the rematch in ’59,” I probed. “They still had Unitas,” Huff barked. “You knew when he was in the game, he believed they would win which meant they believed it. You could sense it in how they came to the line of scrimmage, how they played, how they walked. They all were a reflection of Unitas.”
Pro Golfer Jim Colbert once said he plays a game with himself when he stands over an important 4-foot putt. “I ask myself, will you be more amazed if you miss it or if you make it? And I always said I’ll be absolutely shocked if I miss it,” Colbert explained. That’s a quarterback’s confidence.
Just don’t call it arrogance.